Quantcast

Guest Review: The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

Guest Review by C.H. Armstrong Books & Blog

SYNOPSIS (From Goodreads.com):

First published in 1939, Steinbeck’s Pulitzer Prize winning epic of the Great Depression chronicles the Dust Bowl migration of the 1930s and tells the story of one Oklahoma farm family, the Joads, driven from their homestead and forced to travel west to the promised land of California. Out of their trials and their repeated collisions against the hard realities of an America divided into haves and have-nots evolves a drama that is intensely human yet majestic in its scale and moral vision, elemental yet plainspoken, tragic but ultimately stirring in its human dignity.

A portrait of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless, of one man’s fierce reaction to injustice, and of one woman’s stoical strength, the novel captures the horrors of the Great Depression and probes the very nature of equality and justice in America.

Sensitive to fascist and communist criticism, Steinbeck insisted that “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” be printed in its entirety in the first edition of the book—which takes its title from the first verse: He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored.” As Don DeLillo has claimed, Steinbeck shaped a geography of conscience” with this novel where there is something at stake in every sentence.” Beyond that—for emotional urgency, evocative power, sustained impact, prophetic reach, and continued controversy

—The Grapes of Wrath is perhaps the most American of American classics.

grapesofwrathREVIEW – 5 Stars

When The Grapes of Wrath was released in 1939, it was not only an instant bestseller, but it was met with no small amount of criticism and anger. Steinbeck brought to the world the devastation of the Dust Bowl but, more importantly, the horrors and blatant racism that greeted migrant workers searching for better lives.  For as many who read Steinbeck’s epic novel and heralded it as the true “Great American Novel,” an equal number were aghast at the raw truths he portrayed and sought to have it banned or even burned. Nearly seventy years later, it’s still at the center of much controversy and is listed as Number Two among the Top 10 Most Banned Books (Shortlist.com).

The Grapes of Wrath is an epic novel depicting the mass westward migration of Oklahomans (and neighboring states) during The Great Depression of the 1930s and the simultaneous Dust Bowl.  It was a time when the overuse of the land had turned the once fertile farming soil into dust, making it unfit for the growing of crops.  With no money coming in from the crops, banks swooped in and called in loans on the land, and forced tenant farmers and their families out of the homes they’d known for generations.  The result was mass homelessness that led to a great migration to California and nearby states in search of jobs.

At the center of Steinbeck’s novel is the Joad family. Their eldest son has just been released from prison and returns home to find his family packing up their meager belongings, ready to depart for California and hopes for a better life. So begins the story of the Joad family and their journey west. But they soon realize that their travels will neither be easy, nor as idyllic as they had imagined. Instead of green fields of orange trees ripe with fruit just for the picking, they’re met with numerous hardships and discrimination. California – the land of plenty and the focus of their dreams – doesn’t want them. They’re not only barred from entrance but, once gaining access, are met with conditions more deplorable than those they’ve left behind.

When The Grapes of Wrath was first released, it was met with criticism from groups crying foul at Steinbeck’s depictions for how migrant workers were treated. In truth, Steinbeck revealed that his novel was a watered-down version of the true horrors of the workers – the truth was worse than the fiction of his novel.

As a native Oklahoman and one who finds pride in the name “Okie,” I can only tell you that I truly loved this novel. I loved Steinbeck’s descriptive prose; but more than that, I loved the truth behind his words, which echoed through my mind long after I turned the last page.

Many will say that The Grapes of Wrath is a depressing novel. On the contrary, I found it to be a book of hope and a testament to the strength of the human spirit.  Yes, it was difficult to read about the hundreds of thousands of starving migrant people; and it was even more difficult to come to terms with the fact that “this really happened!”  But what I really got from the story was a lesson in discrimination and racism, and hope for the future of mankind.  You see, even when all had been taken from them and there seemed to be no real hope in the foreseeable future, the Okies refused to just lay down and die.  They refused to let the “big guy” get the best of them.  They trudged on through death, hopelessness, starvation and despair.  They did their best to keep their families together, and they never failed to lend a helping hand to one whose need was even greater than their own.  Nearly 100 years later, the majority of Oklahomans still possess those admirable qualities.

Oklahoma

Guest Review: The Descendants by Kaui Hart Hemmings

The United States of Books: the State of Hawaii
Guest Reviewer ~ Teri at Sportochick’s

DescendantsThe Descendants by Kaui Hart Hemmings
-Reviewed using Audible and eBook

~ SYNOPSIS ~

Narrated in a bold, fearless, unforgettable voice and set against the lush, panoramic backdrop of Hawaii, The Descendants is a stunning debut novel about an unconventional family forced to come together and re-create its own legacy.

Matthew King was once considered one of the most fortunate men in Hawaii. His missionary ancestors were financially and culturally progressive–one even married a Hawaiian princess, making Matt a royal descendant and one of the state’s largest landowners.

Now his luck has changed. His two daughters are out of control: Ten-year-old Scottie is a smart-ass with a desperate need for attention, and seventeen-year-old Alex, a former model, is a recovering drug addict. Matt’s charismatic, thrill-seeking, high-maintenance wife, Joanie, lies in a coma after a boat-racing accident and will soon be taken off life support. The Kings can hardly picture life without her, but as they come to terms with this tragedy, their sadness is mixed with a sense of freedom that shames them–and spurs them into surprising actions.

Before honoring Joanie’s living will, Matt must gather her friends and family to say their final goodbyes, a difficult situation made worse by the sudden discovery that there is one person who hasn’t been told: the man with whom Joanie had been having an affair, quite possibly the one man she ever truly loved. Forced to examine what he owes not only to the living but to the dead, Matt takes to the road with his daughters to find his wife’s lover, a memorable journey that leads to both painful revelations and unforeseen humor and growth.

~ REVIEW ~

★ ★ ★ 1/2

Though traditionally this book would not of caught my eye I was interested in reading it because of my love for Hawaii. From the start the author did an admirable job of creating irritating spoiled children in the characters of Scottie and Alex. The addition of Alex’s friend, Sid who has his own set of problems and annoyingness rounded off for me a difficult read. It is not that the book isn’t well written but I wanted to take all of them over my knee and spank them or hug them to death.

As a mother I was stressed during this whole book and angry with Matt that he had not been more present in his daughter’s upbringing and he allowed his wife free rein without question. As the story went on though he started to show superb judgement in how he handled so many of the new situations that showed up. The author did a fine job in the steadiness of Matt still making mistakes and where his aha moments happened, causing a change in his thoughts and actions.

Joanie is written in a very believable manner and one wonders if she ever thought of the damage she was doing to her children or if she was that clueless that she thought she was helping them. Her character is not likable for all the thoughtless damage she did to everyone around.

For me the interaction between Matt and Sid was the most impactful part of the story.  Both of these two saved each other is ways that only they understood. What these two did for each other was amazing and heartfelt making me cry.

For this review I listened to it via audible and referenced the ebook version as well. I wonder if I had only read the book if I would have had a different outcome in my review. Though I haven’t seen the movie I wonder how this book would come across on the screen so out of curiosity I will see it though.

I give this 3-1/2 STARS.

Hawaii

Guest Review: A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving

Today’s guest review as part of the United States of Books is from H. C. Newton at The Irresponsible Reader

PrayerForOwenMeany★ ★ ★ ★

[Marilyn Monroe] was just like our whole country — not quite young anymore, but not old either; a little breathless, very beautiful, maybe a little stupid, maybe a lot smarter than she seemed, and she was looking for something . . . She was never quite happy, she was always a little overweight. She was just like our whole country.

I’m not sure why I picked that quotation from this book, but there’s something that appealed to me about it (even if I don’t necessarily agree). You’ll note that there are both upper and lower case letters there — Owen Meany’s dialogue is always given to us in all caps. Which is annoying (it’s supposed to be), and difficult to read in extended speeches (Owen’s voice is hard to listen to), and makes you wish he’d shut up (duplicating the experience of most people who heard him).

A medical explanation for this is given, eventually. But the only explanation that Owen needs is that God gave him his voice. The same for his diminutive stature (about 5′ 0″ as an adult)
— God made him that way, for His own reason.

But I’m getting ahead of myself — John Irving’s probably best known for The World According to Garp, which was one of the bigger disappointments of my college reading, so I wasn’t really looking forward to spending more time with him. You add in the fact that this is a 500+ page book with only nine chapters, and it’s downright intimidating. I’m not going to say that you shouldn’t be intimidated and that it’s a pretty easy read — it’s a challenge, it’s frequently a slog — but in the end, it’s rewarding.

When the book starts, Johnny Wheelwright (the narrator) doesn’t seem particularly fond of Owen Meany — in fact, you get the impression that he’s just one of those kids he happens to know, and he’s not that happy about it. But before long, it’s clear that he and Owen are really close — even though (because?) Owen’s responsible for the greatest tragedy of Johnny’s childhood.

John finds himself as an observer to Owen’s life, as his defender, his advocate, his way to the greater world. While Owen is constantly trying to help his friend — help him to achieve, help him to think, help him to believe. It’s a great friendship — and without the other, each was diminished. Owen less so, but in important ways.

The narrative is rambling — John starts to tell us about something, the plot moves forward a bit, but then he goes back in history to give context. Sometimes weeks, sometimes years and far more detail than you think is necessary. Eventually, you see that this is sort of the approach that the overall narrative is taking — John has something he needs to tell the reader, but he doesn’t want to. So he tells you many other things, anecdotes, vignettes, details you don’t need — anything to delay what he wants to say. He does get to it. And by that time, you’re not sure you want him to.

The story is told from the perspective of forty-something John, now a teacher at a Private School in Toronto — he spends his days reading the news about the United States, and ranting (or trying not to) to anyone near him about what President Reagan is doing. I’m not sure why we spend so much time dwelling on him in the present, we don’t need it — it adds almost nothing to the narrative. If anything, I think it might lessen the impact of the rest. The adult John telling the story about his childhood, about Owen, about their growing up together, and so on is essential — we need his perspective, his distance. What we don’t need is to hear John’s rants about Reagan, the poor reading/study habits of teenage girls.

I’m not sure that I get a whole lot of understanding of New Hampshire from this book — Owen’s family working in the granite industry doesn’t tell us much, New Hampshire is The Granite State — everyone who survived 4th grade knows that. If anything, Irving was wanting to talk about America — as an ideal, and as something that falls short of that ideal. Monroe was one example, John Kennedy’s moral failings another, Vietnam a recurring theme, and, of course, the Iran-Contra Scandal. Each of these, as either a representative individual, or representative act, demonstrates how far (in John’s/Owen’s view, at least) the United States has fallen short of the ideals it should strive for — if not achieve.

Ultimately, when I enjoyed this book, it felt like it was in spite of what I was reading. But I laughed, I cared, I kept reading — and then when I was finished, I appreciated the work as a whole, and felt a lot more affection for it than I expected. It’s hard to explain, but I liked this one and heartily recommend it.

New Hampshire

United States of Books: The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler (audio)

Source: Public Library
Audiobook, 12 CDs
I am an Amazon Affiliate

The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler, narrated by George Guidall, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction in 1985 before being made into a movie with William Hurt, Kathleen Turner, and Geena Davis.  Maryland resident, Macon Leary, is a very particular man, he likes things to be orderly and things to be pronounced just so. Even though he is a travel writer, he hates traveling and much of his column and his books are how-to guides on how to bring home with you when you vacation. His marriage to Sarah falls apart following the tragic death of their son, and she moves out. Following a freak accident at home with his dog, Edward, Macon moves in with his brothers and sister — all odd ducks in similar, yet different ways. How anyone could handle of the weirdness is something the wives have talked about before and some have even given up their marriages to escape.

Macon is tough to take throughout the novel until his world is thrown into a spin when he meets dog trainer and jack-of-all-trades Muriel.  In addition to Macon, Tyler has a cast of vivid characters, including Macon’s boss Julian.  However, the pacing here is slow and Macon is slow to evolve, which is frustrating.  His routines in life are so far ingrained into his character that it is very difficult for him to adjust to even the smallest changes.  When he’s thrown into a different way of living, he’s still clinging to the old life he had and even as he opens up and moves forward with his life, he is completely unaware.  Tragically, he takes no action of his own accord and things just happen to him and he adjusts as best he can.

In terms of place, as this is the book picked to represent Maryland, there is very little of my current home state in its pages.  While Macon is referred to as a resident of Baltimore on a few occasions, there is very little of the city I’ve come to know in these pages.  The descriptions given could be of many towns across the United States, and where he and his family live doesn’t even seem like Baltimore, a city with its downtrodden, littered streets and high crime, or its cultural connection to Edgar Alan Poe and Frederick Douglass, one of the most gifted activists during the Civil War era.

Douglass learned how to read in Baltimore, and while Macon and his family are quirky and troubled, they do not speak to the civil rights struggles in a state between the sides, nor do they speak to the other leaders of social movements, including Gertrude Stein.  There is a great sense in Maryland’s literary heritage that lives change here, their perspectives evolve and they move on to greater things.  There is no sense of that here, just as there is no sense of suburban life in Maryland, which is as varied as the cultures and incomes found within its borders.

The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler, narrated by George Guidall, is a slow moving novel, much like it’s main character, Macon, as it is slow to evolve and move beyond the humdrum routines of a rigid travel writer who hates to travel.  The narrator does well in his portrayal of Macon, and his voice and timber set the tone that Tyler has given in her prose.  While there are some amusing moments with the quirkier characters, Macon is hard to like and his slow evolution is tough to take.

Rating: Couplet

About the Author:

Anne Tyler was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina. She graduated at nineteen from Duke University and went on to do graduate work in Russian studies at Columbia University. The Beginner’s Goodbye is Anne Tyler’s nineteenth novel; her eleventh, Breathing Lessons, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1988. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Guest Review: True Grit by Charles Portis

Today’s review is from Wattle at Whimsical Nature.

truegritTrue Grit by Charles Portis
Rating: 3/5

Synopsis:

There is no knowing what lies in a man’s heart.  On a trip to buy ponies, Frank Ross is killed by one of his own workers. Tom Chaney shoots him down in the street for a horse, $150 cash, and two Californian gold pieces. Ross’s unusually mature and single-minded fourteen-year-old daughter Mattie travels to claim his body, and finds that the authorities are doing nothing to find Chaney.  Then she hears of Rooster – a man, she’s told, who has grit – and convinces him to join her in a quest into dark, dangerous Indian territory to hunt Chaney down and avenge her father’s murder.

Review:

I must admit, I saw this on my list of books to read and sighed. I hate westerns, and had the misfortune (in my opinion) of seeing half of the most recent movie based on True Grit. So it was with dread that I opted to read it first, deciding to read in order of least want to read to most interesting.

How wrong was I?! The writing sucked me in from the start, it wasn’t stuffy and formal as I assumed it would be. However, at times the dialogue felt a bit stilted; and the deeper into the story I got, the more I realised that it had no real complexity. It is simply about wanting revenge to (in Mattie’s eyes) right a wrong.

Mattie is feisty and strong willed. She felt older than her 14 years, no doubt because of the setting she was in; the late 1800s, her father has been killed and she’s the oldest child, so needs to take care of his affairs. Which in her mind, means finding her father’s killer and watching him die. To do this she needs help, and sets out to recruit the best and worst Marshal she can find – which leads her to the drunken and often too quick to shoot Rooster Cogburn.

I liked Rooster (what you see is what you get, and he’s a bit of a brute – though showed great patience with Mattie) and did not like LaBoeuf (an arrogant Texas Ranger who happens to be after the same man).

It was a fine story, but the ending to their adventure felt contrived – and I can’t say I was a fan of the ending proper either. I felt a little cheated that all we really got of Mattie was her experience as a 14 year old, and then many years in the future, and nothing in between. I suppose there was some character growth for her throughout the story, given she had just lost her father and wanted justice; but it was somewhat lost in the details of the story.

Not being from Arkansas (or even America) I have absolutely no idea what the place is like, but I got the feeling that back in the 1800s it was a bit dusty and a bit rundown, with lands that criminals could easily disappear into? There was apparently quite a few of them in the same place (which I suppose is fortunate for the Marshals tracking people).

All in all, this was a quick and easy read but didn’t have the complexity I was expecting and fell a little short for me, but it was still a good read and got me out of my comfort zone!

USbooksArkansas

Guest Review: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, illustrated by Ellen Forney

Today’s review for the United States of Books is from Elisha at Rainy Day Reviews

Entertainment Weekly says about their Washington state pick– “Alexie grapples with serious issues through the not-always-serious voice of a 14-year-old caught between his life on the reservation and his entry into an all-white high school.”

The_Absolutely_True_Diary_of_a_Part-Time_Indian_coverSynopsis:

Bestselling author Sherman Alexie tells the story of Junior, a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Determined to take his future into his own hands, Junior leaves his troubled school on the rez to attend an all-white farm town high school where the only other Indian is the school mascot.

Heartbreaking, funny, and beautifully written, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which is based on the author’s own experiences, coupled with poignant drawings by Ellen Forney that reflect the character’s art, chronicles the contemporary adolescence of one Native American boy as he attempts to break away from the life he was destined to live.

Review:

I was intrigued with this book once I learned that this story was based on the author’s own experience. I was not aware of the coarse language in the book until I began reading it; which in my opinion makes this read inappropriate for younger readers. However, that said, I did appreciate that even though this teenager saw a lot of heartache and injustice, including racism and death, there is a lot of laughs throughout the story.

I like the narration of the book, hence the title. That was different than the typical read. Gave it a different feel from a story being told. Even with the racial divide in the story that the boy dealt with, I think this story is very relatable to other young adults out there (tragedy in life, being bullied, and the instability that life can bring with its ever-changing twists that life tends to do to all of us. All in all, a good book and a quick read that I would definitely recommend to everyone to read.

* Disclaimer: language may be coarse for some readers*

USbooksWashington

Guest Review: My Ántonia by Willa Cather

USbooksNebraskaFebruary is the second month of the United States of Books (click here for further details).

The United States of Books: the State of Nebraska

Today’s review is from Teri at Sportochick’s Musings.

My Ántonia (Great Plains Trilogy #3) by Willa Cather

MyAntoniaBlurb ~ 

Through Jim Burden’s endearing, smitten voice, we revisit the remarkable vicissitudes of immigrant life in the Nebraska heartland, with all its insistent bonds. Guiding the way are some of literature’s most beguiling characters: the Russian brothers plagued by memories of a fateful sleigh ride, Antonia’s desperately homesick father and self-indulgent mother, and the coy Lena Lingard. Holding the pastoral society’s heart, of course, is the bewitching, free-spirited Antonia.

 

Review ~ ★ ★ 1/2

This story is narrated in first person by Jim Burden in what I think is a very plain unemotional manner. I honestly had a hard time reading this book and at points kept putting it down. It was puzzling to me that for all of the unusual dramatic events in this book it was for me unemotional. I am not sure if listening to it on Audible and switching off and on with the book impacted my feelings. Though these dramatic events in the book were described in fine detail my mind felt a distance from the writing.

Two characters did stand out. Antonia who was very expressive and Jim’s grandfather for the ways that he dealt with crisis’s, personality issues and his deep integrity. Antonia throughout the book was very emotional and it was obvious to see why quiet Jim liked to be around her and had grown to love her.

I finally connected with the book in the last chapter and a half where it became to me a book worth reading. This part of the book make me feel great sadness for Jim and Antonia and where they were 20 years later. The ending was poignant and still brings tears to my eyes.

This book leaves the readers pondering the what if. What if Jim didn’t go away to college? What if Antonia made a different decision when her first love deceived her? What if Jim had told her he loved her? But the largest question that I had was how did Jim love Antonia? A sister, friend, lover? This book left me feeling sad because if Jim had more gumption his life would of been so different than it was. It also left me pondering on how many people lost out on the best thing of their lives because they were afraid.

Find the Book At Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

Guest Review: Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella

Today’s guest review is from Laura at 125Pages.com

shoelessjoeThis weeks United States of Books brings us to Iowa with Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella.

2 ½ Stars

Entertainment Weekly says – Not only was this novel – adapted for Field of Dreams – set in Iowa, but Kinsella also attended the state’s other claim to fame: The Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

I went into Shoeless Joe with such hope. I have not seen Field of Dreams, but love uplifting sports movies, so I thought I would love one in book form. But this was no uplifting sports movie, it was a strange tale of a man who builds a baseball field on his failing Iowa corn farm then leaves his wife and small child to kidnap famed writer J.D. Salinger and take him on a road trip. I’m sorry what? Where is my tale of a downtrodden man who has a vision and through that builds his dream on his farm? Instead I get a wacky buddy road trip comedy, complete with carnies and diner hold ups. The action on the farm is limited to the very beginning and the very end, and that is where the heart of the story was. A struggling man trying to save his farm and his family with a dream and pure gumption. Those parts were fantastic, but the rest was just ridiculous.

itsiowaThe plot had its moments, but they were sadly few and far between. The family parts were great, but the whole kidnapping road trip aspect totally lost me. The world created was the same, certain select parts were crisp and vivid, then it veered into crazypants territory. The writing was fine, sentence structure wise, but the story was so over the top I couldn’t really see any fine nuances. The characters were a mashup of amazing and then not, they started strong but then went downhill the more I read. I had no emotional tie to any of the characters. Ray was dismissive of the real world and the potential harm he was bringing to his wife and child.

“God what an outfield,” he says. “What a left field.” He looks up at me and I look down at him. “This must be heaven,” he says. “No. It’s Iowa,” I reply automatically.

Shoeless Joe is considered one of the greatest sports books written. I just didn’t see it. Less a book about baseball to me, and more a book about what too much Round-Up in a field will lead to. I do understand the baseball at the heart of the story and how it linked every part together, but failed to see the amazing parts as the random hostage taking of a reclusive writer and a road trip with said writer to pick up baseball ghosts took away from that for me. As did the husband and father endangering the future of his family by leaving them as their farm is about to be foreclosed on. Now, I don’t hate baseball and I know, national sport and all, but this book just didn’t do it for me.

Favorite lines – Pedestrians in the East behave like lemmings rushing dispassionately to their deaths—it takes a good ten minutes to make a left turn into the blinding rush of oncoming traffic, with pedestrians thronging suicidally into the intersections.

Biggest cliché – If you build it, he will come.

Have you read Shoeless Joe, or added it to your TBR?

Check out all of the #USofBooks posts here.

 

USofBooksIowa

Guest Review: The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy

Today’s guest review is from H.C. Newton at The Irresponsible Reader

Mixed Rating:
Did I Like It?
★ ★
Did I think it was well-done? (lost a 1/2 star in the last 50 pages or so)
★ ★ ★ 1/2
tides

The story of the Wingos is one of humor, grotesquerie, and tragedy. Tragedy predominates.

So warns Tom Wingo before beginning to relate that story to Dr. Susan Lowenstein. Lowenstein is Tom’s sister’s therapist and needs his help to understand Savannah, who recently tried to kill herself for at least the third time. Savannah’s now institutionalized until she gets back to a place where she can handle her PTSD (my diagnosis, not Lowenstein’s), psychosis, and whatever else they diagnose her with.

As he has done before, Tom has dropped everything and rushed to New York City (from the tiny community of Colleton, South Carolina) to help his sister. The best way to do that, Lowenstein says, is to fill in the large blanks of memory that Savannah demonstrates. Then, she’ll be able to help Savannah remember and move on from whatever trauma has brought her to this stage. Tom agrees — not only has he come to help his sister, he’s also taking a break from home: he’s been unemployed for a year, he just learned his wife is having an affair and might leave him — maybe by helping his sister’s therapist help her, he might get help in the process.

Before he gets the call about his sister and finds out about his wife, Tom’s spending time with his three daughters and jokes with them:

. . .parents were put on earth for the sole purpose of making their children miserable. It’s one of God’s most important laws. Now listen to me. Your job is to make me and Mama believe that you’re doing and thinking everything we want you to. But you’re really not. You’re thinking you own thoughts and going out on secret missions. Because Mama and I are screwing you up. . . I know we’re screwing you up a little bit every day. If we knew how we were doing it, we’d stop. We wouldn’t do it ever again because we adore you. But we’re parents and we can’t help it. It’s our job to screw you up.

That’s not the last time Tom will joke about this, but he’ll spend far more time showing and telling the reader about how parents go about screwing up their kids — he, Savannah and their older brother, Luke, are proof of that (there are four exceptions to this in the novel — but I can’t help but think that with some more investigation, they’d be shown as screwed up, too).

The seeds of this parental function are planted on the night of the twin’s birth, and soon flower while the children are (at least) toddlers — and it doesn’t stop, ever. To detail it would be to give too much away, but Tom, Savannah, and Luke have horrible childhoods and the proof of that is writ large all over their adulthood. Which doesn’t mean that the book is entirely grim — their father has bouts of generosity, of letting his imagination get away from him and getting the family involved in an escapade; they have loving grandparents; they’re successful at school (in differing ways); they adore their mother (rightly or wrongly); they have adventures — they’re actually happy frequently. But then the reality of their poverty, their abusive father, their (I’ll let you fill in the blank if you read it) mother, will revisit them and things will be grim again. Early on, we’re told that something horrible happens to Luke just a couple of years before this most recent suicide attempt, their father is in jail, and that his mother has remarried (to someone Tom hates more than his father). Slowly but inexorably, we march toward those ends. Alternating with the tales of their past, we see Tom in New York, trying to help and understand his sister, as well as the growing friendship between Tom and Lowenstein.

At the end of the day, Lowenstein’s son is the only character that I liked (and maybe Tom’s daughters — but we spend less than ten pages with them, so it’s hard to say). Which doesn’t say a whole lot for the rest of this motley collection of scofflaws, narcissists, manipulators, bullies and gulls. Thankfully, you don’t have to like all the characters to appreciate a well-written, well-structured novel. Which this largely is.

I’m not entirely convinced it’s as good as it thinks it is, however (it, and most readers, it appears). It frequently seems over-written — too much squeezed into a sentence; sentences filled with sesquipedalian words (after paragraphs without any); the humor seems forced sometimes; the dialogue is frequently stilted. The flashback segments appear to be what Tom’s relating to Lowenstein — but I have to wonder if they’re more detailed for the reader than they are for Lowenstein. She complains that Tom’s not forthcoming about the mother (unless maybe his version conflicts with what Savannah has been telling her), because I think I get a pretty clear picture of her from that.

There are some reveals promised early that Conroy doesn’t deliver until towards the end — and he mostly delivers well. However, one of the big reveals (at least Conroy played it as one), was telegraphed so clearly hundreds of pages before I didn’t think it even needed to be mentioned — it could just be assumed. Like he didn’t need to mention that the football coach from South Carolina had an accent. Telegraphing it the way he did made it seem like an authorial or editorial failure. There was one reveal that was promised only a chapter or so before we got it — I’m glad I didn’t have to wait long for it, because of all the things he teased, this was the most vital (and most disturbing) — setting up Savannah’s first suicide attempt and the rest of her life (it seems).

I’m sure I’m in the minority here, but I think the book tries to do too much — especially by the time it gets to the end, where Tom is beginning to tell us the dark thing it’s been hinting at about Luke, the set-up for what happens to Luke was just too much. Conroy covers race, regionalism, psychiatry, feminism, theories of masculinity, how sports can be noble, spousal/parental abuse, marital fidelity, marital love, marital betrayal, sexual assault, school integration post Brown vs. Board of Ed, Vietnam, property rights, the drug war, quixotic faceoffs against the federal government . . . and other things I’m forgetting. It’s just too much — especially to befall one family (even if three generations are in view).

So as part of this United States of Books series, one thing I want to look at is why the book was chosen, what did the novel teach me about the state, why did EW pick it as “the one work of fiction that best defines” South Carolina? It’s definitely not because it paints the residents in the kindest light — the constant contrast between small-town SC versus a fairly idealized New York City (or at least affluent NYC) doesn’t do the state any favors. There’s a sense of a mix of pride and shame about the people, the history, and legacy of the state. The sharp class distinction — not just racial — drove so much of the characters actions and desires that it seems to be part of their DNA (although it can be overcome with the right strategy and dedication). It’s not the best part of the country to live in, the book seems to say, but those who embrace the life, the state, develop a great love that transcends all sorts of regional, intellectual or philosophical chauvinism. Also, I should’ve realized, but didn’t, that there was more to SC coastal industry than tourism, never occurred to me that there might be shrimpers, lobster trappers, etc.

“There’s a difference between life and art, Savannah,” I said as we moved out into the Charleston Harbor.

“You’re wrong,” she said. “You’ve always been wrong about that.”

I knew very little about this book going in. I remembered when I was in college shortly after the movie came out that everyone talked about Conroy as if he were a genius. I knew that the movie (and therefore, probably the book) involved some rough-and-tumble guy and a classy psychologist in therapy (and in bed, based on the movie poster). I’ve seen Conroy interviewed and in documentaries, I knew he considered himself a “Southern Writer” in the tradition of Faulkner, Harper Lee, Flannery O’Connor and James Dickey (his influence is clearly seen). But beyond that, I didn’t know what to expect. I think maybe more than this. I have to give this a mixed review — there’s a lot to admire here, scope, character, the way he told a multi-layered story about very familiar subjects in a way that (mostly) didn’t seem to tired or cliché. But, oh, I spent a lot of time hating this book. There were at least two times, maybe three, that I almost walked away from this — and I probably would have if it wasn’t part of this series. I’m not entirely sure that I’m glad I finished.

USofbooksSouthCarolina

Guest Review: Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

Entertainment Weekly says – “Mitchell’s landmark novel illustrates the luxury of the Southern antebellum aristocracy and its downfall through some of literature’s (and film’s) most memorable characters.”

Synopsis

Since its original publication in 1936, Gone With the Wind—winner of the Pulitzer Prize and one of the bestselling novels of all time—has been heralded by readers everywhere as The Great American Novel.

Widely considered The Great American Novel, and often remembered for its epic film version, Gone With the Wind explores the depth of human passions with an intensity as bold as its setting in the red hills of Georgia. A superb piece of storytelling, it vividly depicts the drama of the Civil War and Reconstruction.

This is the tale of Scarlett O’Hara, the spoiled, manipulative daughter of a wealthy plantation owner, who arrives at young womanhood just in time to see the Civil War forever change her way of life. A sweeping story of tangled passion and courage, in the pages of Gone With the Wind, Margaret Mitchell brings to life the unforgettable characters that have captured readers for over seventy years.

Today’s review is from Elisha at Rainy Day Reviews.

Gone With the Wind is a classic for a reason. Well written, timeless, and tells a story of bravery, heart, and the difficulty of living life during the Civil War. I can see why people would call this novel a romance however, I would not call this a romantic read but a dramatic read with romance as a key part of the novel. Even though I was not a big fan of Scarlett, she had backbone and had to learn rather quickly that life was not always as easy or pleasant as she once thought due to the civil war and the surrounding issues of life then on the plantation. All around a great book and I can see why the movie is four hours long and look forward to  watching it (I still haven’t seen it).

I most definitely would recommend this read for all.

USofBooksGeorgia